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Editor's note: This piece was originally published in Claw & Blossom.
The American kneeled on the patio, feeding stale tortilla crumbs to the restless ants during the first morning of her research trip. Was this the same species that enslaved ants of other species? She had read about them in one of the science magazines she had torn off of a library shelf. This was during what had become a daily dash from her apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue, up the infamous 145th Street hill, to City College. All of these dusk trips blurred together in the American’s harried mind. Like a nun’s early morning devotion, the trips became a ritual, even if she was barely awake to remember the beginning of any of them. She needed to cram in a few hours of research before her first class. Often, she arrived just as the security guard unlocked the front door. Apart from the greetings of mourning doves, campus was silent.
The titles on the American’s reading list were bound by one topic, broad yet esoteric: El Salvador. Not one of the Spanish names for Jesus Christ, “the savior,” but the tiny Central American nation. Shelf after shelf promised to illuminate the mysteries of Mexico. As a European country, Spain had more than its fair share of books represented in the library catalogue. The university housed its Dominican Studies Institute in the same building as the library, so the Dominican Republic had laid its claim, too. This was, after all, New York City, a satellite Santo Domingo. None of these books interested the American, unless they contained substantial enough mentions of El Salvador to register on her library catalogue search. She only had one semester for these readings and she vowed to stick to the theme.
Book after book covered El Salvador’s civil war. Far fewer touched on indigenous genocide and discrimination. The American had soaked up more about indigo plantations in three months than she ever imagined she would in a lifetime. Once she tore through all of the history books, she anguished over the library catalogue one afternoon after class. Was that all? Had she really read everything there was to know about her mother’s home country? She scrolled and scrolled on the public computer until listings from the hard sciences started to appear. She hadn’t considered reading about El Salvador’s plants and animals, but perhaps this was just the detour she needed. Descriptions of poverty and warfare had already broken her heart many times over. Besides, whenever her mother recalled her homeland, she was quick to relate stories of animals. These stories did not make her mother cry, though they did seem to make her a little homesick.
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